December 18, 2015
“When I Am Weak” is an interview series by Brianne Nettelfield. She talks with people who are woman-identified about exploring weakness and finding inner strength.
Louka Pawlowich is a stay at home mom of two young toddlers, residing in a small community in Northern Alberta. Before wearing the mom hat full-time, Louka worked in the service industry and in the oilfield. Currently her main focus is raising her children, but she recently applied for a Business Management program at a local college, with the hope of one day owning her own business.
Louka came over and helped me stack wood to get ready for winter at the farmhouse. We talked about past struggles in relationships, insecurity, the difficulty of settling on a career, and where she is now.
BN: Tell me where you’re at now in your life. How do you feel about the way things are going for you?
LP: I feel like I’m in a state of limbo where I have parts of my life, like my family, that I love and couldn’t imagine living without. But parts of it… I regret not doing more. Right now, I am giving my all to raise my kids and not miss a second of their growing and becoming little people. But I am at a loss as to who I’m going to be when they no longer need me every moment of the day. Before I got pregnant, I was on my way to finding a career in the oil field. But now, with children, I don’t want to put in those kinds of hours. I’ve never had anything that I’ve been particularly good at. I’ve never had hobbies or interests that lasted a long period of time. So deciding on a career was always hard for me. I want a career because I need something to be proud of that I have done on my own. But at the moment I’m not ready to give up my time with my kids. They are my universe right now and I want to make sure they are off to a better start then I was.
BN: Why do you think you never developed any hobby or interests that lasted?
LP: I had a few things that I dabbled in here and there but I either lost interest or I had people tell me I wasn’t good enough. When I was in the sixth grade, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I wanted it more than anything in the world. I had binders of sketches and I used to cut up my clothes and sew them back together in new ways. I once wore pants to school with only one leg. My dad told me I could never make a career out of something so stupid and my teacher told me I looked like my parents couldn’t afford to buy me proper clothes. Also, because I came from such a big family we didn’t have anyone pushing us to finish anything. When we were done, no one noticed.
BN: What would you consider your “moment of weakness”—it can be a habit, a pattern, an experience…
LP: I have always lived my life for other people. I never gave myself the chance to find out who I was. My weakness has been allowing my insecurities to stop me from stepping out of my comfort zone to figure out who I am as a person, and what my purpose in life is. The point in my life that was my weakest moment was my first adult relationship. I allowed a person into my life who was very toxic to me. I allowed him to keep me down because couldn’t see that I was being manipulated. I didn’t see what he was doing was abusive because he made me believe that what we had was love. He buried me under a lot of self-doubt, insecurities and even financial debt—all of which I still carry around with me. I never gave myself the chance to become an individual, with my own ambitions. I feel like I’ve never really lived, just kind of survived through life.
BN: So what did that look like, day to day, living with someone who played on your insecurities like that?
LP: During that relationship I never thought about tomorrow, just the day. I didn’t feel like I could ever be someone of importance. I felt trapped emotionally and financially. I didn’t have any friends because I was made to believe that I should be spending all of my time, when I wasn’t working, with that person, doing things that “we” liked doing. Always his choice. I allowed him to take advantage till I had nothing left to give. I felt very alone. I started having anxiety attacks and I went through a bad state of depression. I was isolated from my family and friends.
Depression runs hard on both sides of my family and at the time I thought maybe it was just in my genetics. I never thought it could be my living situation. And when I told him I was thinking of getting professional help, he told me it was a weakness and that I should just “get over it.”
BN: Looking back, were there signs that you might have been feeling badly because of the relationship—that you weren’t just depressed?
LP: I remember that he would always talk about how the world was out to get him. He had bad luck. He couldn’t keep a job and bad things always happened to him. But that’s how he manipulated me. He made me feel bad for him because he was just trying to “be himself.” It wasn’t until I was out of the relationship that I realized that “himself” was mean, rude, and abusive. And I know, you would think I would have picked up on that at the beginning, but his insults were always wrapped in a compliment. “You’re pretty, but you’re not hot.” Or he would always tell me that I was such a great person because I didn’t judge him for his faults. It wasn’t till the end that his insults stopped getting sugar coated. One time I went to the hair dresser—my hair had been fairly long and I cut it to shoulder length and I hadn’t told him I was going to do it. When he saw me he said “what the fuck did you do? You look fucking ugly!” And walked out of my work place. I was mortified. There were lots of other things too. He couldn’t hold a job, so I would have to support us both with multiple jobs. And every reason for losing his job was the same: the boss had it out for him. Then he would get some ridiculous job that didn’t pay enough to pay the bills, but his ex-girlfriend never let him have jobs he loved (like detailing Lexus cars, or security at a high end jewellery shop). He liked to be around expensive things because it made him feel better or something. Until we finally got our own apartment, every time we rented a room from someone, he got us kicked out of the house for some reason or another. Always a move right then and there. He convinced me to take out a loan so we could get an apartment and furnish it. But because I made more money than him, I was the only one that paid it back. We have been split up for 6 years now and I’m still paying it off.
Those are just a few of the many many things that unfortunately, I didn’t clue into back then.
BN: That sounds really, truly awful. Did you have anyone to turn to for support at the time?
LP: I didn’t have any support. When you’re with people like him, they cut you off from everyone in a way that makes you feel like it was your choice. He made me believe that my family and friends were against me for one reason or another. That’s how he kept me down.
BN: Why do you think you doubted yourself so much during this relationship? What stopped you from striking out on your own?
LP:I was never a good student in high school, so when I dropped out of high school I didn’t think I was smart enough to get most jobs. It has held me back from going back to school for so long. It’s affected everything from jobs to relationships. I’ve also always had really bad body image. I know, how could your body image affect your job? When I was younger and I was a server I wouldn’t ever apply to really fancy places, because I didn’t think I was pretty enough, or skinny enough. [And in the relationship]… I don’t know if you could call it the power of suggestion. He didn’t suggest anything—it was more of a subtle hint.
“You’re so gross for eating that burger”
“Look how tight your pants are”
“If you worked out, you could get rid of that”
After a while, you are just so low about yourself that no matter what you do you can’t pick yourself up. I was afraid that I would never be good enough for anyone. When you are told that you’re not beautiful or smart, after a while you start to believe it. It’s a very hard mindset to get out of.
BN: You aren’t with this person any more, thankfully. How did the end come about? Was there a last straw?
LP: One Christmas, I had to hide my tip money for three weeks from him, just so I could go home to my family for the holidays. That’s when I started realizing how unhappy I really was.
I had been working at a casino for a while and I got along with a lot of the people that I worked with. They started inviting me to hang out after work, to this Chinese restaurant that was open until four in the morning, and at first I didn’t go, because I knew it would cause a fight with him. After a while, I stopped caring if he would get mad. It felt good to do things that I wanted to do. A few girls from work started inviting me to hang out during the day. So I started doing that while he was at work. I liked having that freedom, finally having people to talk to. After I started hanging out with those people he did get mad, and broke up with me. And his words were, “if you want to act like you’re single you might as well be single.” It was his way of trying to pull me back in, but I liked how it sounded, so I left.
BN: And now you’ve got a partner and two adorable kids. How have you grown since that relationship? What have you learned?
LP: I’ve just learned to take life one day at a time, and to say no to people that keep taking and don’t give when they have the means to. I have a lot of emotional support from my current partner. He is very encouraging and he boosts me up. But I still feel those insecurities that I had from the other relationship. Unfortunately, that has also affected my current relationship. Also I still have a lot of debt from the other relationship so it is a constant reminder that I am still paying for my mistakes.
BN: Do you still feel as weak as you did then?
LP: I still have some days where I have those same insecurities. But my priorities have changed to some degree. My kids help a lot. When my son tells me how beautiful I am, I can’t help but feel better about myself. I’m slowly learning to love myself for who I am. It’s taking a long time. I’m trying to live with myself, for me. I’m trying to not be so hard on myself for the little things. Just because I don’t look a certain way or act a certain way, shouldn’t be the end of the world. As long as I’m doing my best, living my best, I can be happy.
BN: Do you have a plan for addressing the insecurities that kept you from finding your purpose? Do you have advice for people whose insecurities are limiting them?
LP: I’m applying for school. I’m hoping that will help with my insecurities around work and intellectual insecurities. When it comes to my self-image, right now… I’m trying to take everything a step at a time. I’m trying to deal with what I can. I don’t really know how to deal with that right now, but I know what I’m supposed to do—don’t let your body image become your self-worth, you’re more than what you look like.
BN: What advice would you give to other people whose insecurities are keeping them in negative relationships or stopping them from going after what they want?
LP: When it comes to people that take advantage of you, don’t wait until you have nothing of yourself left to give before you walk away. It’s so hard to build yourself back up from nothing and no one is worth losing yourself for.
If you are in a relationship that makes you feel unwell or unsafe, there is help. ShelterSafe offers a network of resources across the country, and there are women’s centres and sexual assault centres throughout Canada listed here.